This post contains descriptions of types of tactics used by child abuse perpetrators. Please practice good self care in choosing whether or not to read it and what kind of support you might need if these are triggering things for you to read. ♥
This information comes from the English – Child Abuse Wheel and is presented to help victims and/or their loved ones recognize abuse. While the behaviors described in the wheel are not by any means the only ones used, they give a picture of the overall types of tactics commonly used by those who abuse children.
The way most of the Power and Control Wheels are read begins with the outer ring, which contains behaviors which are visible, non-subtle forms of Violence, and may be illegal acts. Then the inner spaces between the spokes of the wheel contain categories of more subtle behaviors that make up the day-to-day control tactics in most abusive relationships. It is important to understand that the dynamic in abusive relationships is one of an on-going pattern of abuse. What that means is that while a single incident of one of the tactics in the outer ring may meet the definition of child abuse under the law, there are larger and more subtle patterns at play in most families where abuse takes place.
The outer circle in the Child Abuse Wheel includes sexual violence behaviors such as incest, sexual touching or kissing, and sexualizing children’s behavior for the gratification of the adult and physical violence behaviors such as pinching, hitting, kicking, pushing, arm twisting, and choking.
The first spoke in the Child Abuse Wheel is about the tactic of Using Institutions to control the child. This includes things like threatening the child with punishment or retribution for “bad behavior” by God, the church, the courts, the police, a teacher or the school, the juvenile detention center, foster care, family members, or the mental health system.
The next spoke in the Child Abuse Wheel is using Isolation as a tactic to control the child. This can include limiting or controlling the child’s access to friends, peers, other adults, siblings, the child’s other parent, grandparents, etc.
The third spoke of the Child Abuse Wheel refers to the use of Emotionally Abusive tactics to control the child. Such tactics include putting the child down, calling the child names, making the child feel unworthy, using the child as a confidant, putting the child in the middle between the parents or other family members, being inconsistent with the child, and shaming the child.
The next spoke in the Child Abuse Wheel is using tactics of Economic Abuse to control the child. This may include withholding the child’s basic needs; using money to control the child’s behavior; spending money needed for the child’s well-being on alcohol, drugs, gambling, luxuries for the parent, or other unneccessary expenses; withholding child support from the child’s other parent; using the child as an economic bargaining chip in divorce and custody proceedings.
The fifth spoke of the Child Abuse Wheel is using Threats as a tactic to control the child. The abuser may threaten to abandon the child or the family; threaten suicide; threatening to confine the child in a closet, the child’s room, the home, or elsewhere; threatening physical harm to the child, other loved ones, or pets.
Spoke six on the Child Abuse Wheel refers to Using Adult Privilege to control the child. This includes tactics like treating the child as a servant, punishing for the gratification of the adult, bossing the child around, always “winning” over the child, incessant interrupting of the child because whatever the adult has to say is more important, and denying the child any input into visitation and custody decisions.
The final spoke in the Child Abuse Wheel is using Intimidation to control the child. Intimidation tactics commonly used include using looks, actions, gestures, and property destruction to make the child fearful of the adult; using one’s adult size to coerce the child; yelling, screaming, or cursing at the child; being violent to other family members, loved ones, or pets.
If you suspect that you or someone you know is experiencing child abuse, please get help! You can contact your state child welfare agency or call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
In 1982, the Domestic Abuse Intervention Project in Duluth, Minnesota developed a tool intended to illustrate the ways power and control are integral to domestic violence. This tool, the Power and Control Wheel, has been used within the field of domestic violence advocacy now for more than 30 years, and has been used as a model for many other tools designed for education, prevention, and advocacy around issues of abuse.
I have collected numerous examples of these wheels, and offer easy links to them here. These wheels may be of help to you if:
Below you’ll find tables containing categorized links to the various wheels. In later posts, I’ll cover some of the specific wheels and how to read and use them.
This excellent article on the Good Men Project website is worth reading. Shattering myths about victims is as important as shattering myths about abusers.
Post content warning: Rape, trauma response.
A friend tagged me today on Facebook when posting the link at the end of this post. I felt it important to share my Facebook response here.
I don’t read this comic – wasn’t aware of it until today, and it isn’t really a genre I’m into, so I probably won’t read it. But I want to say LOUDLY and CLEARLY:
Every victim’s responses are unique to zem. All the “shoulds” in the shared email are based on one person’s experiences and what she knows (i.e. what she has been told) by other victims. Some victims want to have consensual sexual relationships immediately after their experience; for some this gives them back a feeling of possessing the power and control that was stolen from them. (This was my response after my childhood sexual abuse and again initially after I experienced stranger rape as an adult, after which I went through a period of about six months when I couldn’t be sexual at all.)
THERE. IS. NO. RIGHT. OR. WRONG. WAY. TO. BE. A. VICTIM/SURVIVOR.
We HAVE TO stop writing these scripts for victims. It hurts them because being told they should be feeling this or that, that they should be exhibiting this or that emotion/behavior/whatever makes them feel guilty and ashamed for not processing their experience properly. The truth is that each and every victim responds in the way they do. PERIOD. I encourage victims not to fall into seriously self-harming behaviors because I care that they not do further damage to themselves and their lives. But I don’t tell them they SHOULD be doing or not doing anything.
I have seen victims of sexual assault hysterical. I have seen them calm, cool, and collected. I have seen them stoic. I have seen them laughing. I have seen them having sexual relationships immediately after they were raped. I have seen them never have sex again, or not for years. The point is: THERE SHOULD BE NO SCRIPT.
I applaud the author’s mother for her willingness to let her story be shared.
Link content warning: rape, kidnapping, captivity, life-threatening briefly described. One person’s trauma response described at length.
I don’t usually just link to others’ articles, but this excellent article on Jezebel.com deserves a lot of attention.
“University officials and cops love to give women tips on how to avoid being raped, so we’ve annotated this quintessential story — you could replace the names and locations and apply it to so many other athlete rape (and non-jock rape) scenarios — to compile some tips for student athletes who need help not raping anyone. Print it out and put it in the locker room. Clear eyes, full hearts, don’t rape!”
Content warning: rape, rape culture, victim blaming
Video content warning: depictions of domestic violence in public.
Would you just sit by while something like this was happening? Most of us would like to think we wouldn’t. This is an overdone example, though. Most abusers are not this obvious, particularly in a public place. How many of us suspect a friend, family member, or co-worker is in an abusive relationship but don’t attempt to intervene? How many of us see small signs of abuse but hesitate to take any action?
A bystander is a person who observes a conflict or unacceptable behavior. In the case of domestic violence, a bystander might be a person who sees a physical domestic violence incident occur, or it might be a person who is aware of or suspects a domestic violence relationship without having directly witnessed physical violence. A bystander might be a stranger, or it might be an acquaintance, a friend, or a family member. So for this article, we’re going to assume that you are a bystander and have some knowledge of the relationship – you are an acquaintance, friend, co-worker, or family member of the abuser or the victim. When a bystander observes a situation, they go through a process of evaluating the situation.
First, of course, they have to notice the situation. We’ll assume that’s already happened. The signs may be obvious, or they may be subtle. Subtle signs include looks, actions, and gestures that intimidate the victim; putting the victim down, calling her names, and humiliating the victim; controlling what the victim does, who she sees or talks to, and where she goes; being overly possessive and jealous; shifting responsibility for his behavior onto the victim; using the victim’s children to relay messages or make her feel guilty; keeping the victim from getting a job or otherwise controlling her access to money; expecting the victim to serve him; making all the decisions; a pattern of dropping charges or recanting stories of abuse; the victim making excuses for the abuser’s behavior. While any of these signs alone may be meaningless, even one can be an important indicator, but more than one can indicate a pattern. When it’s difficult to see a clear-cut pattern, it can be difficult to intervene. The more obvious and severe the signs, the easier it is to decide to intervene.
Secondly, they have to evaluate the perceived cost of getting involved. This might include concerns over retaliation aimed at yourself, the victim, or someone else. Such retaliation might take the form of being fired or experiencing other work-related consequences if the perpetrator is a co-worker or supervisor. If the perpetrator or the victim is a friend or family member, feared retaliation might include the loss of one or more important relationships. And finally, a bystander might understandably fear that any intervention would lead to the perpetrator escalating the abuse.
The next thing a bystander must evaluate is whether he or she needs to take responsibility for acting. When there are other people who you feel are also aware, or perhaps more aware, of the problem, you may feel less inclined to get involved. This is referred to as “The Bystander Effect,” a social psychological phenomenon where people do not attempt to help a victim when other people are present or aware. There is an inverse relationship between the number of bystanders and the likelihood of anyone offering assistance: the greater the number of bystanders, the more diffused the responsibility, that is, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. Bystanders are also more likely to intervene when they feel they have some similarity with the victim; if the bystander feels that the victim has a different background, different beliefs, different values, or is of a different socioeconomic class, he or she may be less likely to take responsibility for helping the victim.
Bystanders are also likely to evaluate their own qualifications to offer assistance. If the bystander feels that she or he is unlikely to be capable of helping, if he or she feels that such help is beyond his or her own ability to assist, it is likely that the decision not to help will be made. Bystanders can seek information on organized assistance for victims in order to ameliorate their sense of helplessness.
Finally, the bystander will evaluate what type of help he or she should offer. What type of help is needed may be difficult to determine. It might be helping the victim leave the situation, confronting a behavior, trying to defuse the situation, or calling for other support.
The following checklist may help bystanders:
Remember that violence doesn’t end after one interaction. Sometimes the violence continues, or the people stay together. This can be frustrating, but taking a stand against violence is still important.
Some people reading this blog will notice that I consistently use the word “victim” and do not use the word “survivor” much. There are a few reasons for that.
First of all, because my work deals with victims of crime, I tend to use field-specific definitions of victim and survivor. A victim is a person who is directly or proximately harmed because of the commission of a crime. A survivor is a person whose loved one is killed in the commission of a crime, or a person who lives through a crime that was intended to kill.
But the bigger issue is that I, and many others who have been victimized and/or who work in the field of victim services/victim advocacy have some legitimate critiques of the “From Victim to Survivor” (and sometimes also “To Thriver”) model that is based on a “heteronormative discourse of compulsory optimism and hopefulness” (Koyama, 2011).
The binary definition of victim vs. survivor can be, in itself, oppressive. The definition supports a culture view of “victims” as disempowered and helpless. Many people prefer “survivor” over “victim” because survivor feels strong and proactive, while victim feels weak, vulnerable, and passive. Society views victimization as something that must be overcome. The victimized are sometimes given an “allowance of time, space, and resources” for recovery from their experiences. This allowance exempts victims from some societal expectations and responsibilities. However, this exemption is limited and conditional and comes with a whole different set of expectations and responsibilities the victim must achieve, focused on getting help, taking care of themselves, and recovering from being victimized. This process of recovery or healing, of becoming a survivor, is a mandatory one for victims. Failing to successfully make that transformation results in victim-blaming and social sanctions for the victim.
This model reinforces society’s need for victims to return quickly to their previous positions in the heteronormative, capitalist social and economic system. Unfortunately, this immense pressure on victims to become survivors has become a cultural attitude that even feminist groups and advocacy workers have internalized.
This model reinforces a worldview that says people are responsible for their own misery, and that the solution for their misery is the responsibility of the individual, rather than collective, organized action. It allows society to view victims as powerless and stuck. The abuser has won, and the only hope for the victim is to change her or his thinking and behavior in order to claim victory, in the guise of survivorship, over the abuser. It refuses to take into account the barriers victims face in addition to having been victimized, such as poverty, rural location, lack of health insurance to pay for services, inappropriate reactions from law enforcement officers or emergency medical workers, lack of access to helping resources, lack of social embeddedness, lack of perceived or enacted social support, multiple and possibly lifelong victimizations, fear of reprisal that keeps them in fight-or-flight mode long-term, etc. This individualistic, everybody’s-capable-of-healing view leads to victim-blaming for those who cannot, or do not, make this imaginary transition. Where, in this model, is community accountability and care?
Dr. Edward Creagan (2011) states, “Everyone has setbacks, disappointments and frustrations. But the way you respond to these challenges and opportunities is what defines you. Whether you become a victim or a ‘seasoned survivor’ depends on your attitude and the way you view the setback. [...] Whatever has happened, you can choose to whine and complain about it, or to profit and learn from the experience. Whining is not only unproductive, it also pushes away your support network. Friends and colleagues will listen for just so long, but then it is time to move on. The choice is yours.”
So victims who “whine and complain” are blamed for causing their own misery by pushing away their support networks, as if the victim’s thinking and behavior are the only barrier standing between victimhood and survivorship. Remaining in this narrowly defined role of “victim” is a failure to live up to societal expectations. But those who work with victims of abuse must embrace so-called “unproductive” whining and complaining as legitimate functions of survival in a world that will not become just simply because those who have been victimized change our individual thinking. We also have to acknowledge that there is strength, creativity, and resiliency in weakness, vulnerability, and passivity.
Victims do not just “get over it” once and for all. They are forever changed. Their lives will never be the same. When victims do not accomplish whatever are the expected steps toward recovery with which they have been presented, they experience both external and internalized victim-blaming. One victim says,
I was told by a victim advocate that the average length of recovery time from Rape Trauma Syndrome was four years. This was five years after I was raped (which was also 38 years after the first time I was sexually molested, 27 years after I escaped a child sexual abuse “relationship” that included human trafficking, 22 years after I left my home of origin and its system of child abuse and domestic violence, and 11 years after I exited an abusive marriage although he was still using our children to continue his reign of power and control tactics in my life). I felt like an utter failure, like a broken thing that could never be repaired. I felt weak and powerless, and like my abusers had won, like they were beating me up all over again, raping me all over again, controlling me all over again, selling me all over again. All the internalized victim-blaming bullshit was there in the middle of my head and my heart, making me feel worthless and small.
This is what the victim vs. survivor model can do to some victims. Can it help some victims? Yes, I am sure that it can and does.
But victims are not worthless. They are not small. Weakness and vulnerability can contain great power. I do not believe I would be capable of the level of compassion and empathy I have for other victims if I felt strong and empowered all the time.
My message to you, if you have been or are a victim of abuse, rape, sexual assault, child abuse, child sexual abuse, human trafficking, or other victimization that strikes at the very core of who you are as these crimes do, is that if you are still here, you are surviving. There is no linear path of externally-imposed steps you must take. You do not have to be hopeful, optimistic, or positive. If you lack optimism or self-esteem, it is not a personal failing. Any coping strategies that work for you are okay, even if they appear on some list of “unhealthy coping strategies” somebody came up with. If they are doing you actual harm and you wish to change that, you can do so or seek help to do so. But it’s up to you; only you get to decide where you are and what’s best for you. If seeing yourself as a survivor is what works for you, go for it! Just please, in either case, don’t impose what works for you on someone else and judge them as less-than because they don’t fit your model.
My message to you, if you are a friend or family member of a victim, a pastor, a counselor, a victim advocate, or someone else who frequently interacts with victims, is that you need to own your uncomfortableness with whatever a victim needs to do to get through, and manage it on your own rather than burdening the victim with the responsibility for fixing what’s making you uncomfortable.
NOTE: My extreme thanks to Emi Koyama for putting into words so much better than I ever could, this issue.
The most common question I hear people ask (or the most common question implied by their usually negative and victim-blaming comments) about intimate partner violence victims is, “Why do they stay?” The reasons victims of intimate partner violence stay in those violent relationships are myriad and individual. I can speak to some of them, but I cannot speak to all of them. Each victim’s reasons are valid and legitimate. Leaving is not the only answer, and it is not the safest option for many victims. In fact, the myth that the way to safety is to get out fosters disdain for victims who do not get out. In reality, the victim is often in more danger after leaving or while preparing to leave. The majority of intimate partner violence-related deaths occur post-separation; the most common post-separation incidents, including homicides, occur during child visitation. (In my home state of Oklahoma, children actually witness one-third of intimate partner violence-related homicides.) The general public, and those who work in law enforcement and emergency medical services, need to understand the reasons victims do not “just leave that jerk.”
So what can you or I do for victims? We can correct the “Why does she stay?” misconceptions we hear from others. We can avoid such victim-blaming ourselves. And when we encounter a victim, we can say:
Intimate partner violence, more commonly referred to as domestic violence, involves a pattern of power and control of a current or former intimate partner, dating partner, or spouse. We have a cultural idea of what this looks like: the one ingrained in most of the folks I know is a big burly guy beating up on his cowed, helpless wife when he gets drunk or when she does something “wrong.” Maybe the picture you learned is somewhat different from that. Nevertheless, the truth is that there is not a “typical” batterer, and most batterers can be difficult for bystanders to identify, and even harder to call out.
While heterosexual women are predominantly the victims of intimate partner violence, there are absolutely also heterosexual male victims, gay and lesbian victims, and transgender victims1, 2. Twice as many women with disabilities are victims of intimate partner violence than women without disabilities3. Women of color tend to be far more likely to be intimate partner violence victims than do white women4, 5. Immigrant women are more likely to be victims and less likely to report intimate partner violence6, 7, 8. Women in rural communities experience higher rates of intimate partner violence and face unique barriers to reporting and exiting abusive relationships9, 10, 11. In addition, children exposed to intimate partner violence in their families experience increased depression, anxiety, and aggressive acting out with others as well as educational difficulties and lifelong difficulty establishing healthy relationships12, 13, 14. The tools of power and control vary from perpetrator to perpetrator, but commonly include some or all of the following tactics (consolidated from several of the various “Power & Control Wheels”).
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
(CONTENT WARNING: Illustrations of recent instances of these rape myths playing out in current culture, including vicious name-calling.)
What are rape myths?
Rape myths are defined as “attitudes and beliefs that are generally false but are widely and persistently held, and that serve to deny and justify” sexual aggression1. The real problem with rape myths is that even though they have no basis in reality, they produce damaging biases toward victims of sexual assault.
Some rape myths examined:
The majority of rape claims are false. This is one of the most widely accepted rape myths believed by our culture. It is commonly believed that rape victims make up false claims because they feel guilty about a sexual encounter or to exact revenge. This myth dates back to ancient times! When the chastity of a woman was a necessity in order to be married to a desirable husband, it was believed that a woman’s charge of rape was simply an attempt to dodge the consequences of a sexual encounter she regretted or feared being found out. However, since in these same cultures and times a woman who had been raped lost her value as a prospective wife, this argument was never remotely valid. The story of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife from Judeo-Christian scripture is an ancient example of the second version of this rape myth: Joseph, a slave and an honorable man, was the victim of a seduction attempt by Potiphar’s wife. When he refused her advances, her vengeance was to have her husband throw him into prison for rape. The awful thing is that this myth has persisted to the present day, as we’ve seen recently in the Steubenville, Ohio rape case.
The truth is that reporting is one of the most difficult things a rape victim has to endure following her or his sexual assault, and it is not something that is undertaken lightly. In addition, law enforcement data show that 6-8% of rape complaints are “unfounded.” However, this number includes cases that are not brought to trial for whatever reason.
Rape only happens to “bad” women. Our cultural tendency is to think that we live in a world where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. We want to believe this because if people get what they deserve, and we are good people, then bad things won’t happen to us or to those we love. This myth plays out when rape victims’ clothing and cosmetic choices, sexual behavior, alcohol or drug use, employment history, social class, ethnicity, etc. are brought into the conversation after a rape is reported, calling her character into question, as if only those of inferior moral character could possibly be victims of rape. While Rape Shield laws prevent some of these things from being used under most courtroom circumstances, there are some limitations to these victim-protective laws, and nothing prevents these factors from being used in the media, on social networking sites, and in interpersonal interactions. Again, this is illustrated in recent culture. The reactions of others in the Torrington, Connecticut case of high school athletes raping a 13-year-old girl offer insight into the prevalence of this myth:
The truth is that rape happens to both women and men across the spectrum of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and does not occur due to the victims’ behavior or other personal choices.
Rape is an interracial (usually, black-on-white) crime. This myth is born of racism, pure and simple. In attempts to vilify men of color throughout our history, the myth that they are uncivilized, dangerous, immoral animals has been perpetuated. Specifically, as abolition of slavery was approached and achieved, the fear that white men would lose some of their stranglehold on power and control in the culture led to the creation of this myth as a means to paint black men as lustful beasts who wanted only to rape ‘good, white Christian women’ in order to make them appear unworthy of freedom. Any relationship between a black man and a white woman was likely to be viewed as coerced, that is, as rape. The same myth has been applied to men of all non-white races in this culture in various ways, leaving white women fearful of men of color. This myth is currently being played out on a large scale in our beliefs about male prison rape. A simple Google search shows top results that claim black (and sometimes Hispanic) prison inmates “deliberately seek out white victims” in a “silent epidemic” of racially motivated rapes.
The truth here is that, whether we are talking about prison rape, acquaintance rape, or stranger rape, the vast majority of rapes are intraracial – white rapists and white victims; black rapists and black victims2, 3, 4, 5. The major exception to this is Native American women, who are disproportionately raped by those not of their race (86% of rapes and sexual abuse of Native American and Alaska Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men)6.
Most rapes are committed by a stranger. We start learning from childhood, especially if we are assigned the female sex/gender at birth, to be always cautious and wary of strangers. “Stranger Danger!” cries pierce the air as elementary and even preschool aged children learn not to take candy from strangers, not to get into cars with strangers, not to talk to strangers on the Internet, etc. This fear does not diminish as we grow up, but is instead reinforced by the idea that women, in particular, are in constant danger of being raped by a stranger. We are taught that to avoid being raped, we should not be distracted, not pay more attention to our phone or iPod than to what’s going on around us, not wear our hair in a ponytail, dress in clothing that is difficult to remove and easy to run away in, carry weapons if we are skilled in their use, take a self defense class, avoid walking past or parking near vans, be careful when opening car or home doors, walk as if we own the world, bring a dog when we walk or run in the park, avoid going out alone at night, etc. All of these “tips” are reinforcements of the Stranger Danger myth. The problem with this rape myth is that 73% of rapes and 90% of child sexual abuse are committed by someone known to the victim rather than a stranger.
Women secretly wish to be raped. There is a widely held belief that women enjoy rape or that it is ‘just sex at the wrong time, in the wrong place’. Rape is a terrifying, violent and humiliating experience that no victim – male or female – wants or asks for. Studies have consistently shown that most rapes involve physical force to some degree. Often when someone is raped they are afraid that they will be killed – rapists often use the threat of killing their victim or the victim’s loved ones to ensure their ‘submission’ and their silence after the attack. Nobody enjoys sexual violence. Victims of murder, robbery and other crimes are never portrayed as enjoying the experience.
When a woman says “no” to sex, she really means “yes.” The basis of this myth goes back to the previous one. The idea here is that women have a socially constructed need to be seen as pure and nonsexual, and that any sexual contact in which they enthusiastically consent will damage their reputation as a passive, nonsexual female, therefore they protest in order to maintain the stereotype. This rape myth is reinforced by the legal system regularly. This attitude was highlighted in an incident a few years ago where pledges and members of a fraternity (Delta Kappa Epsilon) at Yale University marched across the campus carrying signs reading “We love Yale sluts” and chanting “No means Yes! Yes means anal!”
Both legally and otherwise, nobody wants to be raped, and consent is only established by the presence of an unmistakable YES. (By the way, Yale did the right thing and suspended the fraternity’s recruiting and campus activities privileges on campus for five years.
Rapists are mentally ill. This myth has prevailed in our culture for a long time. After all, someone would have to be insane, crazy, psychotic to commit rape, right? Like the “rape only happens to bad women” myth, this idea likely stems from people’s desire to separate themselves from bad things that happen. Except that no study has ever supported this idea; indeed, they have shown that rapists are no more likely to suffer from mental illness than non-rapists. The fact is that rapists are typically seen by those who know them as the “average Joe” who is able to fit in with any group in which they move – students, professionals, and – of course – family members.
There are a number of other myths surrounding rape, but these are some of the most longstanding and “beloved” rape myths in society, those that provide social support for rape culture. As this article on the Yes Means Yes blog states, “The Social License to Operate is the set of beliefs that make rape seem like a continuation or extension of normal sexuality, instead of an aberration and personal violation. By normalizing rapists and rape, by blurring the lines between rape and sex, we create a culture where instead of responding to the crime like we should, there’s always room to argue for and or excuse or mitigate the rape and the rapist.”